Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows)

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Plot: “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

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I absolutely LOVED the movie (review here); so much so that it spurred me to start writing on my blog again. Naturally no force on this planet would keep me away from the book, and I got the last copy at my local bookshop – even though at an exorbitant price – seriously, how do they want people to keep on reading when it is so expensive? – I was still willing to fork out the cash because I just had to know.

I do love the romantic notion that one hard copy book can travel across oceans and reach people you would never have come in contact with. It’s part of the fun of buying a second hand book – someone else has read and enjoyed that particular book.

In this case, it leads to a life changing journey for author Juliet Ashton, who herself is still recovering from World War II, travels to Guernsey to meet their illustrious book club and one of it’s intriguing members – Dawsey Adams. He writes to Juliet after finding her details inscribed in one of his second hand books, and their pen-pal relationship develops nicely enough that she decides to embark on the journey that will alter the course of her life.

The one thing that took getting used to is that the book is written entirely as letters. This makes things a bit difficult, and certainly something to get used to, because there’s no “real” interaction between the characters and everything is written after the fact. I did get used to it, but like I said, it took a while.

With any book to movie adaption there will be a few changes. This is no different matter, but none so severe that it makes me like one more or one less. Dawsey Adams is definitely less attractive than the beautiful Michiel Huisman, although his character is just as beautiful in the book as in the movie. Again, Glen Powell and his absurd levels of charm make Mark Reynolds a nicer guy in the movie than he is in the book – he seems a whole lot of toxic in the book. They are also never engaged, as they are in the film.

I don’t want to give away too much for those who are planning to pick up a copy, but if you do I really hope you like it. It is still a testament to the beautiful country of Guernsey and their almost overlooked horrors experienced in the war. I am as a result also quite interested in who Charles Lamb was, the country of Guernsey, and any man who might be similar to Dawsey! 😉

Have you read the book? DO let me know!

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Movie Review: The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

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Plot: In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.

I may not actually know how to blog anymore, but here goes. But some films deserve to be written about. This movie just deserves to be up here, and for the three still reading this blog, this is for you.

I have been keeping my eye on the release date of the mouthful of a film: The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society in South-Africa for a while, but became quite despondent when I saw just how limited release was planned. Fate intervened, and I got tickets to a special screening of this film. (Lucky me!)

I didn’t know all the deets about the film, but I was excited because it looked like my dormant British heart (I am sure I am 50% British because I love everything about their entertainment culture and history), the location of which I have always been interested in and an interesting mix of cast, I thought would be satisfied. My hopes were not smashed in one of these aspects. It is also good once in a while to completely not know what will happen in a movie.

When phrases like “Move over Darcy, this is Dawsey Adams” makes the round, you must know I will arrive at the scene to form my own opinion. However, this statement is way off base and those who agree with it have certainly never picked up a copy of Pride in Prejudice. Although both men are nearly perfect (and imaginary) depictions of what anyone would hope to find in love, they are dissimilar to each other. I won’t say too much about Mr. Darcy, you can read my lyrical waxing on a number of posts in this blog about his fine character, but Dawsey Adams (by the delightful Michiel Huisman) is straight off delightful from the very beginning. He is pure and wonderful and takes on more than he ever should have by taking care of a little girl, at first glance his own child, while Elizabeth Mackenna (Jessica Brown Findlay) is mysteriously not on the island when writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) arrives. He is a pure hardworking farmer that has witnessed the ugliest side of war. How must he have felt when he couldn’t join the forces and fight against the Germans due to a medical condition? How powerless when he witnessed the casual cruelty of the Germans occupying Guernsey? When he also had to deal with the fact that not all the German soldiers were evil? So many questions.

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Lily James provides a charming performance as Juliet Ashton and highlights well her underlying trauma of the war, a woman trying to fit herself into a world where she is wildly successful but still managed by all the men in her life, no matter how charming they might be. One of these men is her handsome fiancé Mark Reynolds, an American soldier who has put a very, very sparkly ring on her finger. Mark (Glen Powell), is as perfect as you can hope to find a man – dashing, kind, generous, helpful, and yet the watcher knows for certain the love Juliet and Mark has is just not enough to carry them.

Things I liked:

  • Let’s start with the quoting of one of Jane Eyre’s most infamous passages during the book club meeting Juliet attends – I am currently rereading this gothic romantic masterpiece, and I was extremely impressed that they included it in the movie. The rendition by Isola (Katherine Parkinson) was at once slightly hilarious and touching.
  • On that topic, the character of Isola Pribbly provides just the correct amount of comedy to the film. She was a favorite in the cinema and all her lines, slightly drunk and ever endearing, made me wish I could be friends with such a fantastic woman.
  • The Downton Abbey Flashback! Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay and Penelope Wilton made this a family affair. Whether it was deliberate or not, the combination of these four actors made me more ready for the Downton Abbey movie (hopefully) later this year.
  • Penelope Wilton is a fantastic actress and her grief in losing so many people in the war made more than one person in cinema emotional.
  • Matthew Goode needs more screen time in my life. I firstly loved this character because he was on Juliet’s side, and not some sort of villain as is often the case with agents depicted in movies, but her genuine friend and confidante. He also provides a solid performance.
  • The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society is not only a romantic film, it is a tribute to the land, the people of Guernsey and the aftermath of war, the rebuilding of life and dealing with repercussions long after an event has passed. The romance is indeed secondary, and the true love is indeed for the beautiful tale told.
  • The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society made me remember half-forgotten memories and feelings – I remember reading about the evacuation of the British children to their countryside during the war, I remembered how my sister and I loved to keep flowers in books and parse them. It is shot and directed beautifully and the scenery is as charming as the story itself.
  • The handsome Matthew Goode is Juliet’s agent and close confidante. He is as always endearing and I can see this man being a fantastic friend. I liked that he was on her side – how often is the agent/manager actually an antagonist? It’s exhausting and bad writing. Not all business partners are bad.
  • I can carry on for hours about each character – which I am glad Mark Reynolds wasn’t a bad guy, and how charming Glen Powell was in his depiction. The hypocritical Christianity of Adelaide Addison – such a fantastic job by Bronagh Gallagher – I have rarely seen such a tasteful depiction of the pettiness in which righteous, bored old women can fall into.
  • The chemistry between Lily James and Michiel Huisman – such a slow, burning and quietly increasing vibe. They made this movie by appearing so perfectly compatible.

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I will round it off here, and tell you to just go watch it. If you don’t like it I am not sure we can be friends. I am currently reading the book, and I need the DVD as soon as it is available in South-Africa. If I don’t have it to watch on repeat, I will surely die a slow and lonely death.

On that dramatic farewell, do let me know if you saw this!

Rating: 8.5/10